Despite the reprieves, it is unclear how the towns will be supplied with food, water and medicines with flames and smoke still making access to Mallacoota and Corryong, as well as other towns and villages around the east of the state, difficult.
NSW authorities confirmed on Tuesday that three people had died as towns and villages along the state’s south coast were engulfed in flames and smoke from huge, out-of-control fires.
Naval evacuation of Victorian coastal towns is now a real possibility, according to the state government, and dozens of Army personnel will join the search and recovery effort in the coming days.
The ADF will also provide vehicles for search and rescue efforts, serve meals to firefighters, provide accommodation to volunteers and map fires from the air.
Victorian authorities are warning that there is more danger to come, with lightning strikes igniting 15 new fires on Tuesday, including some in the alpine region and with a dangerous fire flaring up on the shores of Lake Eildon, another popular holiday spot.
Dangerous fire weather is expected to return to the state soon, with no significant rain forecast and temperatures in the high thirties predicted for some parts of Victoria on Saturday.
The thousands of residents and tourists forced to shelter on Mallacoota’s foreshore for most of Tuesday as the flames approached the town were allowed to return to their homes later in the day.
But the state government has warned they may remain trapped in the town for days, with the Princes Highway, the main route in and out of the region, not expected to be made safe and a Naval rescue effort may the best and quickest way out.
Across the region, more than 5500 people had sought refuge at relief centres by Tuesday, with more than 400,000 hectares of land either burnt or burning in East Gippsland.
Scores of property losses have already been confirmed, and many more are expected, with Emergency Victoria Commissioner Andrew Crisp saying 19 structures were confirmed destroyed at Sarsfield and another 24 at Buchan.
Homes have also been razed in Bairnsdale, Clifton Creek, Sarsfield, Club Terrace, Nicholson, Bruthen, Gelantipy and Genoa, with Mr Crisp describing the property losses as “significant”.
There have been major losses of livestock, fencing, sheds and equipment on rural and farming properties, Emergency Victoria said on Tuesday afternoon.
The state government was releasing few details of the circumstances surrounding the four missing people, with the Premier simply saying authorities were concerned about their welfare.
“We do have real fears for their safety,” Mr Andrews said.
“They’ve been in active fire environments and we can’t account for them.”
Travelling in East Gippsland is expected to remain difficult for days, with Princes Highway and Great Alpine Road still closed in both directions east of Bairnsdale and the state government unsure of when the highways will be safe to travel again.
Mr Andrews also said on Tuesday that he had asked the US and Canada to deploy 70 remote area firefighters to help exhausted Victorian crews. More firefighting aircraft have also been requested from North America.
Sarsfield resident Naomi Holland told The Age of returning to the town on Tuesday morning to check on her parent’s property in Duncan Road, where the destruction was “completely unpredictable”.
“You can sort of see areas where it’s completely singed,” she said.
“There will be just a house standing completely untouched surrounded by burnt grass, and then there’s other areas where homes are completely decimated.
“It’s pretty bad, a lot of people don’t know if their homes are still standing.”
The CFA were still on Duncan Road on Tuesday afternoon, clearing trees and putting out spot fires, Ms Holland said.
Authorities told her that if she left her home, she would be prevented from returning.
“Standing on my parent’s verandah, every now and then we get another puff of smoke. We’re just on watch in case there’s another spot fire,” she said.
CFA chief Steve Warrington said Tuesday’s change took the fires that were threatening to engulf Mallacoota and Corryong away from the towns.
“I understand there was a public cheer at the [Mallacoota] jetty when that was announced. That is good news for us.”
Although Victoria’s temperatures will remain mild over the coming days, Mr Crisp said authorities were bracing for another spike in fires at the weekend with temperature set to hit 34 degrees on Friday.
Crews will work towards containing all the current blazes, and prepare for what could be another bad day on Saturday.
“In terms of fire danger ratings, we’re looking at least very high across all of the districts and there’s a possibility a couple of those districts are moving into severe, which will trigger a discussion about a total fire ban,” Mr Crisp said.
Mr Warrington said no Victorian firefighters had been physically harmed by the blazes but it had been a traumatic few days in which emotions and stress levels were running high.
“Particularly from last [Monday] night, some of our crews, they had to drive past houses that were on fire, so that in itself is very traumatic,” Mr Warrington said.
“They were working right through the night, so they’re tired, and they’re stressed.
“At times, there were people that made the decision not to follow our direction and remain in isolated communities and stay in place.
“Unfortunately what that happened, those same people, in some cases, said to us ‘hey can you come rescue us, it has got so bad’. And we weren’t able to get in and that caused some anxiety for our crews.”
Firefighters battling infernos in remote and isolated parts of the state have been sleeping in their CFA trucks, Mr Warrington said, and added the conditions over the past two days had been “terrible” and “bordering horrific”.
Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Sumeyya is state political reporter for The Age.
Ashleigh McMillan is a breaking news reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at email@example.com